Sunday, July 26, 2009

Music Library: Faces + Fairport Convention

According to iTunes, it would take me a solid week of listening for 24 hours a day to go straight through the Fs. Which would probably only cost me my job, family, and sanity, were I to attempt it. As much as I love writing these posts, I think I'll try to hold onto those things for the time being, so if it's all the same to you, so I won't be doing the Fs in a week. Glancing through them, I notice that the bulk is all centered around a handful of artists, although there are 66 F artists in total. Anyway, I like numbers because I am a nerd. And here we go:

The Faces - A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... To A Blind Horse (1971) and Good Boys... When They're Asleep: The Best of Faces (1999). Bringing the rock in the best possible way. How the hell did Rod Stewart get from the Faces to "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," anyway?

Fairport Convention:

  • Fairport Convention (June 1968). It's easy to forget that the whole of Fairport's heyday was a mere two years. The growth from Fairport Convention to Full House is nothing short of stunning. All of the Fairport albums that I have feature Richard Thompson and Simon Nichol on guitar. On the first album, the lead singers are Judy Dyble (known for knitting on-stage), who would be out of the band not long after the album came out, and Ian MacDonald (who would soon change his name to Iain Matthews) plus Ashley Hutchings on bass and Martin Lamble on drums. This album opens with a killer cover of an Emitt Rhodes song, "Time Will Show The Wiser," but the rest of the album is only so-so. The greatness of the next few put it into stark relief.

  • What We Did On Our Holidays (Jan 1969). After Dyble left, the band was fortunate that among those auditioning for her replacement was Sandy Denny, soon to become known as one of the most remarkable and influential voices in all of the burgeoning Brit-folk-rock sound. Denny served as lead singer for all three 1969 releases. This album is a leap forward into the sound of British folk music, which Fairport blended with rock styles, a la The Band and The Byrds. This album also features Thompson's "Meet On The Ledge," a song he wrote in his mid teens (and, to be fair, he was not yet 20 when this album came out). "Meet On The Ledge" is one of Fairport's best-known songs, although Thompson seems to find it a little embarrassing. That's his prerogative; he wrote the damn thing. I think it shows his trademark laugh in the face of death.

  • Unhalfbricking (July 1969). Here's where Fairport really takes the hell off. The rest of the band simply cut Iain Matthews out of the recording process, letting Denny take the lead and some of the rest of the boys sing, too. They brought in Dave Swarbrick to play fiddle and mandolin on about half of the tracks. And they played like their very lives depending on it. Three of the songs are Dylan covers, including a funny Cajun-ish take on "If You Gotta Go." Two are Denny's, including her masterful "Who Knows Where The Times Goes?" Two are Thompson's, including his "Genesis Hall," one of my favorites of his songs. And then there's "A Sailor's Life," a traditional British folk song that the band gave the full-on psychedelic-in-1969 feel. I've attached videos (well, they're mostly audios) so you can listen to Thompson and Swarbrick play off each other. I say DAMN.

  • Liege & Lief (Dec 1969). This one's a stone-cold classic, although it was born of tragedy. Between the recording and release of Unhalfbricking, Fairport had an auto accident while returning from a gig late one night. Martin Lamble and Thompson's girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn were killed. The band was uncertain how or whether to proceed. But they pulled it together, brought in drummer Dave Mattacks to replace Lamble, made Swarbrick a full member of the band, and recorded an eight-song album that ditched the Dylan covers for arrangements of traditional British folk music. There are only three originals on the album: "Come All Ye" by Denny and Hutchings, Thompson's "Farewell, Farewell," and Thompson and Swarbrick's collaboration "Crazy Man Michael," which is, oddly enough, the oldest-sounding song on the album. In the clip below, listen to how Thompson and Swarbrick play off each other differently on this than they do on "A Sailor's Life." They aren't trying to be psychedelic any more; they're now instead throwing extremely complicated bits of traditional dance music from the British Isles at each other, just to see how fast and precise they can be. I think it's nothing short of amazing. And who doesn't love a good death ballad? That's gangsta rap, circa 1500 AD. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the cuckolded lord wrote this himself, just to let everyone know what a bad-ass motherfucker he was.

  • Full House (July 1970). Then Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings quit. The band recruited Dave Pegg to replace Hutchings on bass and recorded Full House with Swarbrick, Thompson, and Nichol singing lead. This one had four traditional songs and three Thompson/Swarbrick collaborations, including the masterful anti-war song "Sloth," attached in the clip below. Another original, "Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman," was originally intended to be included, but Thompson had second thoughts about it and requested that it be cut at the last minute. After Full House, Richard Thompson left the band, and I no longer cared about them, although the band has dragged on with new members to the present day. All of the original members were gone by 1971, but founder Simon Nichol returned in 1976. Fairport usually hosts a big live reunion show every summer called Cropredy, but I've never been.

  • House Full: Live At The L.A. Troubadour (recorded 1970). This is a live album of the Full House lineup that combines tracks from two prior albums (called House Full and Live At The L.A. Troubadour, respectively). It's pretty smoking hot, but it definitely focuses on the traditional folk music over some of the better-known Fairport songs. The only Fairport original is "Sloth."

  • Heyday: Best of the BBC Recordings (recorded 1968-1969). This is a single-disc of live Fairport music that Joe Boyd's Hannibal Records put out a few years back. Since then, some kind soul at the BBC has released a four-disc box set of all of the Fairport live material from 1969 through 1974, including this material. Upon checking Amazon this morning, I have learned that they are offering a download of this box for less than $21, so I will be picking it up as soon as possible. This makes me very, very happy.

Next: The Fall, of which I have so much that it would take me 36 straight hours to go through it all. I don't plan on doing this (-ah!), so it will be a few days (-ah!) until I post another of these. Thanks to Bill Ham for turning me onto Mark E. and co. back in 2001!


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